By Licia Ginne, LMFT
What makes couples counseling successful? In my experience couple’s who are willing to take risks, try new behaviors and invest time and energy increase their changes for success. Learning how to communicate and problem resolve provide the foundation but time and energy are essential for lasting change.
Couples often wait until the problem has reached the breaking point before they reach out for help. They keep hoping things will get better on their own and usually the anger and resentment have created an even deeper divide. By the time they seek help they are frustrated, hopeless, isolated and often so exhausted they have a hard time reinvesting in the relationship. If you find areas of concern in your relationship try and address them as they come up but don’ t wait until it reaches a crisis.
The goal of couple’s therapy is to have a safe and protective environment where you can understand your differences and sameness, learn how to communicate and find options for problem solving. To learn acceptance and tolerance of our differences, to offer compassion and understanding, how to set boundaries and say yes or no.
I believe the best predictor for how successful a relationship can be is how strong your communication skills are. We can survive disappointments when we have an open arena for discussion, comfort and support.
Couple’s or marriage counseling is the same as individual psychotherapy in that it requires thought, insight and understanding. While doing couples therapy we may find ourselves uncomfortable, frustrated with not knowing how to express our needs and wants and struggling to find a balance. What we learn is how to tolerate our feelings, our partners feelings, how to identify wants and needs and how best to respond to requests. We learn how to communicate, how to listen and how to help our partner listen. It works best if you can let your partner know what kind of listening stance you’d like them to take; I am going to tell you something and I’d like you to listen, offer advice, sympathy, compassion, take my side, help me plan a response or problem solve.
Most of us grew up with the notion that everybody does everything the same way, as if there is a right way for everything. I think most of us are surprised when we realize our partner doesn’t do everything the same. It could be as simple as in your family the dinner dishes were done right after eating and you can’t understand why your partner wants to sit and rest before cleaning up. In working with couples who have very different financial styles; one believes you pay the bill the minute you receive it and the other feels it’s ok to get a warning notice from the company before you pay. You see one person very anxious about the bill and the other not understanding why the anxious one is causing more stress.
In my work with couples, I have offered the view that there is a business side to any relationship and a romantic side. None of us were taught how to run a relationship. Like a business you need regular staff meetings to discuss problems, investments, set goals, set appointments and evaluate progress. I suggest that if you need to discuss business like matters set aside time for the discussion don’t mix it with a night out. Your focus on the problem is diluted and you could ruin a lovely dinner date with tension or unresolved problems.
When you separate romance from business you can focus on intimacy, companionship and family matters during your romantic time. Dates need to be made and time set aside for developing your relationship. All relationships require an ongoing investment of time and energy.
When was the last time you asked your partner out for a date?